Please help decipher my coat of arms

One of my ancestors was evidently rewarded a coat of arms, but I only have the text version of it:

Gules, three dogs rampant argent, the first two affrontee; a chief azure, charged with a label of four pendant gules, between each pendant a fleur-de-lis or. Gules (red) denotes fortitude.

I have absoultely no idea what this means…gules, rampant argent, affrontee…???

Can anyone help turn this text into a visualization?

Try Pimbley’s Dictionary of Heraldry, a better source than some other online heraldic dictionaries because it is organized like a dictionary rather than an encyclopedia. If you look up each word, you can figure out what your coat of arms looks like.

The formal description that you have given is a blazon. See Understanding Blazons. Basically: gules (red), argent (silver or white), azure (blue), and or (gold) are tinctures–that is, colors (okay, technically argent and or are metals, which are different than colors); rampant (attacking) and affrontee (confronting) describe the orientation of animals; and the chief is the shield, and the charge is what appears on the shield. So your coat of arms is three white dogs standing on their hind legs, the first one facing the other two, on a red background; and a blue shield with four red pendants with flueurs-de-lis between them.

This is a huge help, that website on Blazons is an excellent start to drawing my coat of arms. Thank you!

(In preview, I see you’ve been answered, but I’ll post this anyway.)

Gules: background is red
three dogs rampant argent: three silver dogs standing on their hind legs as if they were boxing
the first two affrontee; facing out from the shield toward the viewer
a chief azure: the top 1/3 of the shield is blue
charged with a label of four pendant gules: there is a narrow band across the chief, in red, with four strips of the same width descending from it (picture a belt of cloth with four “extensions” of the same width hanging down from it)
between each pendant a fleur-de-lis or: between each pair of vertical stripes (the pendants, just mentioned) is a gold fleur de lis

I’m not sure why the dogs were not identified by breed, but I am not an expert.

The “label” was usually a sign of “cadency” indicating that the arms were of a junior member of the house. (This is not a put-down, the eldest son would have the emblem of a cadet until he succeeded his father. For a later son, the cadency would then pass into his family’s arms.)

Every bit of information helps, thank you tomndebb. I’m saving what you both have written, hopefully I can piece this together soon.

Nice arms…

May I ask if you know what area of the world the family comes from? While some charges had meanings, some were just picked to be cool.

Either way, it’s nice to have something on the shield for when you need to go to war.

Oh wait…

Hi. This is actually very simple to display, and quite striking when drawn out. Gules is red, Azure is blue, argent is white or silver. The design simply stated is:

A red background. The top third of the shield is blue. On the red part (the bottom two thirds), you have three dogs - two near the blue part and a third in the bottom, near the point of the shield. The dogs are ‘rampant’, meaning they are standing on one hind leg, and rearing up, like they are leaping over a tall fence or some such. The two on top are ‘affrontee’, meaning they are actually leaping out of the shield towards the viewer. The bottom one is in the default position of leaping to the left. On the blue part, you have a label of four pendant. In many historical arms, the label is the mark of an eldest son. It is basically a short, horizontal bar with ‘tails’ hanging down. In this case there are 4 tails, or pendants. The label is red. Between each of the little tails hanging down is a fleur-de-lys (the ancient French artistic lily flower), also red, for a total of 3 fleurs.

I would be interested to know more about the history behind these arms. Typically, in British arms, the Blue-on-Red or Red-on-Blue design would not be permitted. This is a “color on a color”, and provides poor visual contrast. Also, in more historical heraldry, the concept of an affrontee beast in the rampant position would be unusual, since it would be basically indistinguishable visually from more than a few feet away. The historical use of heraldry (visual identification on the battle field) generally precluded such displays. However, in more modern times, these ‘rules’ have relaxed somewhat.

Also, keep in mind - particularly if you live in a country where arms are recognized as property - that arms are not necessarily hereditary, and a common ancestor or family name does not necessarily permit you to display the arms as your own. In short, there is no such thing as a “family coat of arms”.

Christopher Miller
Shrike Herald

Can anyone register a coat of amrs? That is, suppose I designed one that is not already taken. Could I write to the Royal Herald or whomever and register it, even though I am not a citizen/subject of that country?

Also: Helmets are often used on top of the coats of arms (although I don’t remember when they are used or what the rules are for using one). Since coats of arms were devised hundreds of years ago, the helmets are those used with the armor of the period. Suppose someone wants to use a new helmet? A pilot might choose to use an HGU-55 with an O[sub]2[/sub] mask. Someone who is in the army may choose to use a modern army helmet. A tank commander may want a tanker’s helmet. I read in a book I have on heraldry (that is in storage over 1,000 miles away and is inaccessable) that there is a coat of arms that depicts a locomotive, so I’m guessing that modern images are allowed.

What tells us this according to the description? (I am asking, not challenging.) The simple fact that they are described separately? Or something else?

Quibble: fleur-de-lis or indicates the fleur-de-lis were gold.

This site gives an introduction to the Lyon Court - where you’d go to matriculate a Coat of Arms in Scotland.

I don’t know how other countries go about registering Arms, but it’s certainly a very difficult and formal process in Scotland. Unless you can prove a direct line of descent from someone who bore Arms - and that your claim is stronger than any other descendent’s - it’s not possible to ‘claim’ the Coat of Arms of the Armstrong clan (or whoever). Bearing Arms when you’re not the clan chief is known as “assuming Arms” and is actually an offence.

Thank you for the excellent responses, I’ve been attempting to draw it all day and was relieved when reading Marundel’s post, since everything he said I’ve done so far! I do not know how I will draw a dog though.

Background: My grandfather is from Bologna, Italy. Someone of my surname was awarded a coat of arms in Bologna, Italy - I’m not sure when, how, or why, because I only obtained the description from someone with a similar surname I found on the internet. I assume he obtained it from a legitimate source, and have emailed him to find out where. How can I find it myself? Do Coat of Arms websites have this information somewhere?
Tomndebb, this comparison should help (with your ‘dogs’ question):

Original:
Gules, three dogs rampant argent, the first two affrontee; a chief azure, charged with a label of four pendant gules, between each pendant a fleur-de-lis or. Gules (red) denotes fortitude.

My interpretation (based on posts here and links provided):
Red, 3 white dogs on their hind legs with elevated forelegs (right above left at head profile), two facing outward. A blue bar across the top 25-33%, with a label (a line with 4 dropping perpindicular lines) of 4 red pendants, between each a flower.

Note: colors cannot be placed on colors, nor metals on metals, nor furs on furs - therefore, dogs must be SILVER on red background.

http://jagor.srce.hr/~zheimer/heraldry/h.htm This site has nice pictures :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

http://www.college-of-arms.gov.uk/ has some good info also.

Instead of drawing, check here: http://www.yourchildlearns.com/heraldry.htm There is a program you can download to make a coat of arms. Yeah, it’s for kids, but it’s a good place to start :slight_smile: You’ll probably end up with a better representation of the arms.

Not just “a flower” but the *fleur de lis * as found on the older Royal Flags of France (first three images). (A history of the fleur-de-lis)
(In fact, given that the fleur-de-lis on the arms are three images in gold on a blue field, there is a possibility that there may be a remote connection to the royal French arms. (I’m thinking that it may have indicated a connection such as a remote cousin or the granting of lands during a period when France held some of the Papal States rather than a claim that your house descended from French kings.))


Having written the preceding, I went looking for some other information and stumbled across

at the heraldica.org “meanings” page. It also notes that many Italian families were divided among the Guelf and Ghibelline factions and that a charge associated with the Guelfs was

Good points, all. “Head turned towards the viewer of the shield” is “g(u)ardant” (both spellings used, the “gardant” being preferred since the meaning is, roughly, “regarding” (looking at) the viewer). “Affrontee” means that the whole animal is facing front. So:
[ul][li]“rampant” means “rearing, body and head facing right as you see the shield”[/li][li] “rampant gardant” means “rearing, body facing right and head facing the viewer”[/li][li] “rampant affrontee” means “rearing, whole animal, both body and head, facing front”[/li][/ul]

The technical language is used out of tradition and combines two things: brevity (e.g., the inital “gules” means “the background color is spectrum red” in one word) and precision. E.g., “azure” is spectrum blue; there is also the rare “blue-celeste” for sky blue.

As far as ownership of arms goes, (1) they are personal – “your family coat of arms” is the product of a fast-buck artist playing on the misunderstanding of the general public that they are somehow “family” possessions – they are that only in that the right to them is inheritable.

(2) Title to them is awarded by appropriate officials in European countries (including Ireland and the U.K.) and applies to ownership under their laws.

(3) Since American citizens are collectively possessed of sovereignty, and forbidden (or at least discouraged; the law is subject to interpretation) to seek “titles of honor” from “foreign potentates,” a U.S. citizen should not matriculate foreign arms, but assume them if they are the heir of right. There is nothing preventing one from designing one’s own arms and using them; there are U.S. registries, without the force of law, for registering what one has chosen.

(4) The principle of comity between nations means that you should not assume a set of arms whose ownership belongs to somebody else overseas – just because your surname is Howard, for example, does not allow you to display the arms of the Duke of Norfolk. But many people take the arms of their family and differentiate them to make a “new” set for themselves. For example, should I ever want to display arms, I have the Wilbur arms with the tinctures reversed and a label of three to indicate being heir of line of a junior branch of the house.

There are several online site that have huge libraries of family crests and coats of arms available for viewing. Most offer merchandise w/ these emblems. But, a quick search for your family crest by surname might find some images you can use.

But, picking up on what t-keela said, change the “family crest”* so you’re not stealing someone else’s property. If it’s a blue background with five lions walking towards the right, turn lions 2 and 4 to the left – it produces an aesthetically pleasing effect, and differentiates yours from the original. Or if it’s a red gryphon on a white (actually silver) shield, with a white cross on a blue chief, make the cross gold, or put fleurs-de-lys on the ends of the crossarms. Heralds do this stuff all the time to create new arms for junior branches of families with arms in the elder branch.

  • “Family crest” is a double solecism – first, as already noted, arms are personal, family only in the sense that title to them is inherited by primogeniture. Second, “crest” refers specifically to what is on top of the helmet on top of the shield, and most people who are not nobility do not have a crest at all, just a “coat of arms” (technical term for the whole array is “achievement”; technical term for the shield and the arms displayed on it is “escutcheon”). A “coat of arms” in technical terms, incidentally, is just that – a sleeveless robe called a “tabard” printed in the design of your arms, originally worn over armor.